A common theme in both Mrs. Dalloway and Heart of Darkness is the shadowing of characters. In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz acts as Marlow s shadow self, and as a catalyst, that brings Marlow to a realization about himself. In Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus acts as Clarissa’s shadow self, and as well, the catalyst that brings her to an understanding of herself. In both novels, the shadow characters are viewed by their society as being insane, and in some ways dangerous, either to themselves or to others. Both shadow characters die in the end leaving the main characters changed and with a new outlook on life and death.
A contrast between how the authors use this theme is that in Heart of Darkness the two characters are involved in a very intimate and intense relationship, but in Mrs. Dalloway the two characters never meet, and the parallels are mainly for the reader to connect, even though Septimus has a significant impact on Clarissa in the end. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow is on a journey to the unknown in two ways. He is on his way to Africa, uncivilized land unknown to many civilized Europeans, as well as a journey into the unknown parts of himself. This is where Kurtz comes in as the necessary shadow of Marlow.
Kurtz represents the uncivilized, and parts of Marlow that are hidden, or that Marlow is fearful of exploring. Kurtz, having given in to his animal instincts, disgusts Marlow. Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts. (Darkness 97). Marlow feels that the inability to control or restrain that part of human nature is appalling. Marlow knows Kurtz is an overwhelmingly powerful man, but Marlow also believes that any power Kurtz has is only due to the darkness that he allowed to take over and control his soul. But his soul was mad.
Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad. I had for my own sins, I suppose to go through the ordeal of looking into it myself. (Darkness 113). Marlow fears this part of himself, the part that could easily be conquered by darkness and insatiable appetites, and therefore must confront this part of himself in order to move forward and complete his personal journey. In Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa is suffering from her own issues with choices she made in the past, from her shallow party throwing image, and the issues she has in relation to herself as a woman, and a wife.
She is constantly examining her internal worlds and trying desperately to control her thoughts. Septimus does not even see the difference between reality and imagination, and in that way is in a constant struggle with the people around him who are attempting to bring him some sort of clarity. He works as Clarissa s shadow self in that he believes that a lack of feeling is a crime. He had gone through the whole show, friendship, European war, death, had won promotion, was still under thirty and was bound to survive.
He was right there. The last shells missed him. He watched them explode with indifference and to Lucrezia, the younger daughter he became engaged one evening when the panic was on him that he could not feel. (Dalloway 93). Clarissa is constantly attempting to control and hide her feelings, while Septimus is very expressive. Internally, Clarissa is very expressive and analytical, yet she hides this and represses it in an attempt to remain sane. She instead busies herself with throwing parties in an attempt to bring people together.
She wants people to come together because of her, and because she has an intense desire to connect with people and to really feel something, though she is fearful of emotions. She felt quite continuously a sense of their existence; and she felt what a waste; and she felt what a pity; and she felt if only they could be brought together; so she did it. And it was an offering; to combine, to create; but to whom? (Dalloway 132). The parallels between Septimus’s suicide and Clarissa’s choice to marry Richard are also apparent.
Septimus actually commits suicide in order to keep others from taking away and destroying his soul, and Clarissa committed a metaphorical suicide when she decided to marry Richard instead of Peter. Septimus s choice is one of freedom, whereas Clarissa s choice leads her to a shallow life of unhappiness and repression. Marlow comes very close to submitting to the darkness. He becomes so obsessed with Kurtz that he begins to emulate his worst attributes. Kurtz s death is very significant, and leads to Marlow s knowledge of himself.
Droll thing life is that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself that comes too late a crop of unextinguishable regrets It is his extremity that I seem to have lived though. True, he had made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to draw back my hesitating foot. And perhaps in this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible.
In this passage, Marlow realizes that he was so close falling into the darkness that consumed Kurtz. Marlow begins to analyze his life and takes a much more cynical view of human nature than he did at the beginning of the novel. Marlow was permitted to step back from this madness, death and darkness while Kurtz went over the edge. Marlow is allowed to continue on with life after coming so close to self-destruction. Kurtz may also serve as a metaphor for what would have happened to Marlow if he was unable to resist.
It is as if Kurtz and Marlow are the same character, but with different endings. The death of Kurtz represents victory over darkness for Marlow. While Kurtz had a moment of clarity at the end with the repetition of the horror, Marlow never got to that point, and in that way is left with an intense admiration for Kurtz, as he believes Kurtz was commenting on his life, and came to a realization of himself. This also leads Marlow to reexamine his life and wonder why, when he was near death, did he not have the same moment of clarity.
The death of Kurtz and the effect it had on Marlow also relates very well with the death of Septimus and the effect that had on Clarissa. With the news of Septimus s death she is forced to feel again, and that brings about a huge change in her life. The young man had killed himself; but she did not pity him; with the clock striking the hour one, two, three, she did not pity him, with al this going on She felt somehow very like him the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking.
The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. (Dalloway 203). Clarissa was very glad to know that he killed himself because he resisted the confinement of his soul. He was able to choose death over life because the life he would have led in the asylum would have been death for his soul. Clarissa begins to feel again, and for this she is very thankful. She spent much of her time in fear, like Septimus, that it was not possible to feel anything, or believe that the world had meaning.
The news of his death brings her to an understanding of herself that alludes to the promising changes that will take place in her life from now on. She has a revelation and feels a strong connection to Septimus, even though she has never met him. This connection is very powerful, and is profound just as the connection between Marlow and Kurtz is. In both cases, the death of the shadow selves brought about an understanding and knowledge of self for the main characters. There are similarities between both the shadow selves and the main characters in both novels.
Kurtz and Septimus are both viewed as insane by many people and are both consumed with darkness and tragedy. For Kurtz this submission to darkness was due to his intense appetites that he lacked the ability to control, and for Septimus his descent into madness was due to tragedy of the war. These perfectly mirror the issues the main characters are having. While Kurtz is consumed with appetites, it is this that Marlow fear and hates most, and therefore must confront, and Septimus is afraid of a lack of feeling and destruction of the soul, which is just what Clarissa fears most.
Both shadow characters had a brief moment of clarity prior to their deaths that also leads to the newfound clarity the main characters achieve with the passing of the shadow characters deaths. Both Clarissa and Marlow are repressing their own feelings and hiding from their darker sides. They both long for self-discovery but they are unable to achieve it without the interference of the shadow characters. Both are changed immensely when the shadow characters die. These novels are very different in plot lines, but are also very similar in overall meaning.
Both have the main character aching to discover themselves and regain the ability to feel, yet they are unable to accomplish this with out the intervention of their shadow-selves. This theme is very apparent in both of these novels. The plot lines could have been different, as well as the details of each story and it would have had the same effect because the important part of each novel is how the main characters come to a realization and how the shadow characters need to die in order for that to happen. It is as if the death of the shadow characters represents a birth for the main characters.